If you follow me on other social platforms, you've heard the news! My husband was offered a fantastic career opportunity in Austin, Texas. The moving truck came today and we are ready to go! I'll be focusing on finding my next hospitality interior design job for the next few weeks, but am looking forward to continuing my photography side hustle in ATX! If you're in Austin and are looking for a photographer, fill out the form in my bio section--I'd love to chat with you soon!
This post is all about the logistics and planning for the Winter Olympics XXIII. My sister, brother, husband, & I decided to go to the Olympics on a whim not knowing a thing. We've always loved the Olympics and winter sports so we figured why not go and make a trip to visit our sister, Dani, living in Dalian, China as well! We tried to research attending the Winter Olympics prior to our trip, but there was not much information out there so I'm writing this in hopes it provides insight for anyone wanting to plan a trip to attend the Olympics.
This Olympics was actually located a few hours via train outside of Seoul (opposite coast of South Korea) in Pyeongchang & Gangneung, South Korea. There is not much going on in these areas and they were built up just for the Olympics, which was great because we only had to deal with those crowds and not that of a normal city. The downside was all accommodations were built just for the Olympics. Once we booked flights we knew we needed to lock up our hotels since we decided to go only 5 months out! South Korea is a little challenging because they don't use google, they don't use any map apps that we use in the US, etc. so that made booking a hotel and train tickets a bit more challenging than usual. We lucked out in that one of my sister's student's moms booked our hotel & train tickets for us since she was a local. I wouldn't say the Olympics are impossible to do as a foreigner, but having a connection like that and having someone travel with you who speaks the language were immensely helpful for our trip!
This hotel was the most expensive of our whole trip by a long shot. Each person paid $355 for 3 nights total. The hotel we initially booked emailed us 1 week prior to our arrival stating that they did not pass inspection and would not be completed in time. They were able to secure accommodations for us at another hotel, Tops10, and did not charge us more despite the room rate being significantly higher at this other hotel. We were nervous about this happening because of what happened in Sochi, but we were really impressed with how the hotel relocated us so smoothly! This hotel was a serious upgrade, but it was a solid 30min cab ride from the train station and kind've by itself along the coastline.
Because the games took place a few hours away from Seoul and there was only one train line out there from Seoul (with a lot, but not a ton of train times), we bought our tickets in advance. We found you were able to easily purchase at the stations as well, but it was nice to have ours in advance for peace of mind. Transportation around the games was pretty easy, but you did have to factor in a good amount of time (~1.5hrs to get in between the two clusters, 30-40min to get around within the clusters depending on where you were going) to get from place to place. Overall, it was organized very well (was easy to find the appropriate shuttles & trains around Gangneung + Pyeongchang) and there were plenty of cabs to leave the Olympics venues and get to your respective hotel. Also, the shuttles in Korea are pretty fantastic... they are just begging for some k-pop to be played.
Due to the political climate leading up to the games, many people asked us how we felt about going to South Korea and if we were nervous about security. South Korea was a fantastic host and they did a great job with the overall organization and making sure you always felt safe. To enter either cluster you needed have a valid ticket for an event at that cluster that day. If you did not have a ticket, you could go to the box office that was right by the entrance to purchase one. From there, you went through typical airport-like security. For the mountain cluster events that were more spread out, you would go through the same metal detector security for those events as well. There were always a ton of volunteers/staff working the events (I swear the whole country was working at the Olympics) and we always felt very safe!
The only time we encountered the North Korean cheerleading squad was at the pairs finals figure skating. They had their own section and honestly just kept to themselves. There were tons of paparazzi, but the people working the event made sure people kept their distance so nothing would happen.
What to Pack
This is what I was most concerned about! Since we were traveling Seoul & Shanghai (~50°-60° most days) in addition to the Olympics, we needed to pack for those parts of the trip as well. The Olympics were between 20°-30° which made it easy to pack for because you essentially wear the same thing every day. We bought a bunch of hand warmers + toe warmers in the states and stocked up on Korean body heaters/hot packs (the same thing, but larger and come with an adhesive back). Most days I wore on bottom: under armour base layer, leggings, jeans; on top: under armour thermal, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, packable down jacket. Also, 1 or 2 pairs of socks, lined snowboots, a neck warmer, hat & mittens. Since no one can see your layers, we rewore things a lot, and my sister & I swapped some items to change things up. The indoor venues were a comfortable temperature, but the outdoor venues at the mountain cluster were very cold! They only way to prepare is wear a lot of layers. Through writing this post, I just found this helpful packing guide as another reference.
One thing I google searched a ton was restrictions the International Olympic Committee had on bag sizes and cameras. I wanted to bring my canon 6d DSLR + 35mm f/1.4 lens, and was fearful they wouldn't allow it. The only information I found was that your setup couldn't be longer than 300mm (11.8in) in length so I was good to go. I saw many DSLRs with crazy long telephoto lenses so I think most spectator's camera setups should be fine. I believe the bag size was restricted to 50cm x 50cm x 50cm because that's the size of the scanner. We brought a small backpack and had no issues going through security.
Food & Drink
We packed some snacks (small nut packs and bars), but the food at all Olympic events was accessible and cheap (they had traditional korean options that were delicious, as well as western food options, and even a McDonald's) so we mostly purchased food in the venues. We were shocked at how affordable it all was. The prices seemed to be in line with the cost of living for this part of the country. Our theory is that Koreans are generally very honest people so it's not in their culture to upcharge, but who really knows why! Every event served beer and did not have a limit for purchase, unlike in the states. Beer lines were often very long (~20-45min wait) so we would usually have one or two people buy a tray (they would give you the lid to a box) of 12 beers to last us a while. It was amazing! Also, beer was only ~$3!
Tickets ranged in price from $17-$768. Many events had tickets at $70 or less to attract visitors. Every event had 3-tiers of pricing - section A (premium), B & C, and the actual seats/locations just depended on the type of venue. This guide helps explains the various ways to acquire tickets. As you can imagine, purchasing tickets to the events is the most challenging aspect of planning your trip! We purchased pairs figure skating finals ($140, section C), ski jumping qualifiers ($70, section C), and USA vs. Russia hockey tickets ($135, section A) in advance, while we bought Sweden vs. Norway hockey ($30, section C) and Women's Freestyle Slopestyle Finals ($211, section A) tickets at the box office at the Olympics. We tried to get tickets to curling and speed skating, but both were either very expensive or completely sold out. My advice would be to try to purchase as many tickets in advance as possible (keep checking back at the website and whenever some come available for the event you're looking for, snatch them up!). Try to do one morning event and one evening event per day, but stick to one cluster per day to maximize your time.
Want to read about our itinerary and experience? Check out my other post here. Anything I didn't cover? Feel free to reach out to me with any specific questions. We met so many wonderful people attending, and many of them had been to a handful of previous games as well. I could easily see why. We all had an absolutely incredible time and agreed if the opportunity to attend another Olympics presents itself, we would all quickly hop on board! Tokyo 2020, anyone?
Alright, we've finally arrived at the Olympics post! This one has been a challenge to write because I have so many things to say. Leading up to our trip I did a lot of google searches trying to research logistics, the ins and outs of attending an Olympics, and most importantly what to pack, but could not find any information out there on these topics (I was shocked! I guess companies don't pay influencers/bloggers to go instagram about this stuff yet). After our trip I thought I'd like to do a write up in case this blog post can help anyone out there looking to attend an Olympics! That said, I broke this up into 2 posts. The first (this one!) is about what we did each day, and the second (this one), covers the logistics & planning of attending the 2018 Winter Olympics XXIII. So here we go!
Day One - Pairs Figure Skating Finals + Sweden vs. Norway Hockey
We took a bullet train from Seoul, South Korea to Gangneung (the Coastal Cluster which had primarily skating venues) Wednesday morning. Our hotel was about a 30min drive from the train station so we dropped off our luggage then got right back in that same cab to drive back to the Olympic venues. Most of our group had tickets for the pairs figure skating finals that morning. It was so cool to see my favorite winter Olympic sport live! The funny thing is, it felt like any other normal figure skating event you'd attend back in the states--except the North Korean cheer squad was in the section next to us!
After that event we had some time to kill so we went to the 'Olympics Live' area where you could watch the live stream of other sports going on. The Olympics cover a TON of land area just by nature of the various sports and their arenas so this was a great resource! We were able to catch the end of the cross country skiing finals which were pretty epic if you recall, while fueling up with a beer and ramen.
We were hoping to snag tickets to a round of curling or speed skating, but the Koreans snatched all those tickets up. We wound up going to Sweden vs. Norway hockey, because, why not! After the game we hit the (very tiny) town for some Korean BBQ and watched speed skating on TV at the restaurant. I've got to give a shout out to my homegirl, Hopper, for carrying us through the weekend with her fine Korean skills. If it weren't for her, we wouldn't have been able to get out of the Olympics bubble and get some local grub! Once the speed skating ended we raced back to get on the last shuttle of the day to the hotel.
A very tired crew, we all got our luggage from the front desk and made our way into our beds. The next morning we awoke to the most spectacular view from our hotel room!! It was dark when we checked in so we had no idea we'd have a gorgeous oceanfront view when we drew back the drapes (photo of the view from our room below). The hotel we originally booked wasn't completed in time, so they put us up in this hotel instead and notified us a few days prior to our arrival. We totally lucked out in that this was a significant upgrade from our original accommodations. They also had a delicious feast for breakfast every morning. The perfect way to get those nutrients in before a long day!
Day Two - Ski Jumping Qualifiers
After we had breakfast and layered up, we took the bullet train to Pyeongchang (the Mountain Cluster) which is where the main 'Olympic Village' was located. They had a little 'town' of igloos and sculptures built out of snow & ice. The main medaling ceremonies also took place in this area, though we never saw one in person (they do one ceremony per day for all the event finals that occurred). The only event we had pre-bought tickets for on this day was Ski Jumping Qualifiers (3 out of the 4 ski jumpers on the US team trained at Norge Ski Club which is a few miles from where I grew up! #hometownpride). That event didn't start until later in the evening so we had a lot of time on our hands. We tried to get into the luge warm-ups, but they only let friends and family in. Once we were denied, we decided to pop into a local billiards bar by the luge venue to kill some time and of course drink some soju.
My sister brought some blank pillowcases for us to make signs for the event. The owner of the bar saw us going to town on them and was SUCH a gem. He brought us tape to tape them down, put a piece of paper under them so the marker wouldn't bleed through, and even busted out his iron to iron them for us!! I haven't mentioned this yet, but the Koreans are absolutely WONDERFUL people and were amazing Olympic hosts!! I have a soft spot in my heart for all the lovely ones we encountered!
Many hours later, we decided to try to get into ski jumping early if we could to watch the warm ups. We got in 2hrs prior to the start, when the gates opened. Little did we know, we were about to freeze our buns off for the next few hours! The thing about ski jumping is, you're already in the mountains (where it was way colder than at the coastal cluster), but you're literally standing on a sheet of ice. I think it was about 20° not including wind chill. Naturally, we were drinking beers during the warm-ups hoping a beer coat would surely help, but not when your beer starts freezing before you can finish it!! We brought dozens of hand + foot warmers, and bought body heat packs in Seoul, but no amount of heat packs could help! That said, now you understand the expressions on our faces in these photos. Literally have never been colder.
Regardless, this event was SO COOL! I had never watched ski jumping before so it was awesome to be exposed to a new sport. We also had fun making some friends who were doing the stay warm dance with us (you can ask my sister Dani or I for the choreography--we gotchu). Though the Americans didn't perform as well as they were hoping, it was awesome to cheer all the jumpers on. My fingers were beyond numb so I didn't get a photo of anyone jumping; use your imagination.
Day Three - Women's Freestyle Slopestyle Qualifiers + USA vs. Russia Hockey
On day 2 when we were bumming around to kill time, we popped into a box office because we decided we needed to get 2 activities in for our final day! There weren't a ton of options, so most of us bought premium tickets in the grandstand to Women's Freestyle Slopestyle Qualifiers + Finals, while my brother snagged a ticket to Women's Super G Qualifiers (he got up close to Lindsey Vonn!). The morning of day 3 we took the train back to Pyeongchang then hopped on a shuttle out to the Slopestyle venue. I've got to say, we totally balled out for these tickets, but it was the BOMB! Being back at the mountain cluster during the day (sun, hallelujah!!) for a finals event with such an amazing spectator vibe was so fun.
We knew nothing about this event (here's the 4-1-1 if you're interested), had never watched it, and didn't know a single athlete, but that's what was so cool! Everyone was making friends with everyone, and all the spectators were cheering every athlete on. Each athlete got 3 runs, and only the skiers' best score counted toward the final results. The energy was incredible! I will never forget watching USA's Maggie Voisin nail her 3rd run. It put her in 4th place but my goodness that moment was incredible!
We needed to warm up after Slopestyle so we did as the Koreans do, and went for traditional Korean BBQ back in Gangneug. Traditional also included a squatty potty outside & down the block from the restaurant... don't miss this part of Asia! Despite the bathroom situation, the food was fantastic.
After eating, we hung around the venues in the coastal cluster for a bit, Dani & I made our star debut on Barstool Sports, then we headed into our final event--USA vs. Russia hockey! Our final day was pretty fantastic because as you can imagine, the energy in this venue was unreal. David texted me an hour before game time and said 'you have to get in here!!! this place is electric!' to which I replied, 'gimme a few, just met donnie does from barstool.' #proudwifemoment Anyway, the Americans got clobbered and DPN got in one too many arguments with the Russians, but it was pretty phenomenal to be a spectator at one of the world's most intense rivalries.
After the game, we headed back for another peaceful slumber at the lovely Tops10 hotel then hopped on the first train back to Seoul. We attended events in the middle of the Olympics so it was cool to keep following along in the States (way more enjoyable to watch the Olympics in English!!)
That rounds out our Olympics itinerary! If you want to see more, I created an instagram story highlight of all my stories during our time in Pyeongchang that you can view on my page. In my next post I cover logistics, investment & packing tips for the Winter Olympics.
Seoul, South Korea was our second stop. Though Shanghai soup dumplings were the clear star of our trip (still dream about them), we really loved Korean food, too!! It's safe to say we ate our way through China + SK. Almost every day revolved around where we could get the best bibimbap, bulgogi, or korean barbecue and each place really outdid themselves (especially the hole in the walls!).
We spent 2 days here before headed to the Olympics (a few hours away on the train), then my sister Dani & I pampered ourselves for a day and a half on the back end before flying home. Seoul was a different change of scenery from Shanghai as it is a relatively new city and much smaller. We really enjoyed shopping/walking around Insadong & Bukchon Hanok Village. We went to the Noryangjin Fisheries Market one night which was quite the experience! After about an hour of realizing the only way we were going to get dinner was by communicating with our hands and a calculator, we were finally on our way to a fresh salmon feast. After purchasing the raw fish, someone brought us to a room nearby where we sat on the floor with our shoes off and they brought us all sorts of Korean condiments to enjoy. We all ate more salmon than I ever could've imagined, chased by tasty Soju of course!
Fast forward to after the Olympics, Dani and I were absolutely beat. The boys were headed back to the States so we balled out at the Shilla Seoul. I really wanted to experience a luxury Asian brand hotel and I highly recommend this one! Though South Korea is about the same if not a little more expensive than the US with most things, the hotels are super affordable! I have never had a more amazing hotel stay which was so appreciated at the end of our trip (A+ bathroom experience!). During our last few days we spent a lot of time at our hotel, stocked up on all the Korean skincare (I have so many recs!), and had our first and last traditional Korean spa experience.
To this day my favorite thing about Korea is the bathrooms. Let me tell you, a heated toilet seat when it's 20 degrees out is LIFE CHANGING! When will the states jump on board that bandwagon!?